First Women in Leadership Symposium Features Retired Shell CEO Keeth, Panel of Female Powerhouses

Published on February 15, 2008
Birgit Kamps' company, Hire Synergy, is one of Houston's most admired.

Birgit Kamps’ company, Hire Synergy, is one of Houston’s most admired.

Making and sometimes taking opportunities are imperative for women looking to build their careers, retired Shell Chemicals, Inc., CEO Fran Keeth (’77, MS ACCY ’80, JD ’88) told an audience at the Women in Leadership Symposium hosted by the UH C. T. Bauer College of Business chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs. “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door,” Keeth said.

Held on March 14, the symposium was a NAWMBA event bringing successful female leaders in the Houston area to share their insight and personal experiences. Keeth, a Bauer alumna who was also the first female CEO of a petrochemical company, was the keynote speaker.

Keeth said she was glad to be back at her alma mater and then gave the audience five lessons: don’t be afraid to take a risk; don’t be boxed in by your job description; people are looking for leadership; if your boss has confidence in you, have confidence in yourself; and embrace change.

She also emphasized keeping integrity in business, a theme that carried over into a panel discussion following her speech. The panel featured Metha Vasquez (’91), HR director for Cameron International; Diana Morales, Executive Director and CEO of YWCA Greater Houston; Rogene Calvert, Director of Personnel and Volunteer Initiatives for the City of Houston Mayor’s Office; and Birgit Kamps (’88), CEO of HireSynergy.

“If you have to check your integrity at the door, don’t go through that door,” Keeth said. She also noted that leaders are not only found in the executive offices of a company, and it is vital that leaders embrace inclusiveness and diversity.

“Role models come at every level in the organization – not just the top,” Keeth added.  “Every woman out there has an opportunity and should I be so bold as to say an obligation, to be a role model for some one else.”

Another major theme of the discussion was finding a balance between work and family life, which Keeth and the panelists agreed is difficult but necessary. In 1996, Keeth left Shell for a position with Mobil Corporation, a decision she made in part for family obligations.

In the panel discussion, Kamps emphasized that taking personal time is not necessarily a ratio of hours worked, and it is important to have a structure in place for balance. At one point, she introduced “yoga in the afternoon” to female employees at HireSynergy, which also sponsored the NAWMBA event.

The event was created to connect undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni and faculty together to discuss challenges that face both men and women in starting a career, said Allison Bowles Davidson, co-vice president of events for NAWMBA.

“NAWMBA hopes this event will become an annual chance to promote the advancement of women in professional careers. It also gives us a chance to showcase the strong campus community and growing involvement of Bauer and UH as a source of outstanding professional talent and development programming,” she added.

By Debi Ostrom

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Bauer College of Business

The C.T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than 60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully accredited by the AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the college was renamed the C.T. Bauer College of Business.

Posted Under: Alumni

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